In February 2023, the Abraham Accords witnessed several significant developments that mark historic milestones for the region. One of the most notable events was the finalization of the text of the normalization agreement between Sudanese and Israeli leaders, which is expected to take effect after a political resolution is reached in Sudan. Additionally, Israeli government delegations visited Bahrain, Egypt, Morocco, and the UAE to foster cooperation in key areas such as energy, security, and space exploration. Israel also hosted delegations from Accords member countries, including Morocco and the UAE, while commencing the construction on its embassy in Rabat, Morocco.
February also witnessed several cultural events that underscored the Accords’ significance. Israeli chef Tom Aviv presented at Taste of Dubai, which is widely regarded as the most important food festival in the Persian Gulf Region, while the UAE inaugurated the historic Abrahamic Family House in Abu Dhabi, featuring a church, mosque, and synagogue in the same complex.
In addition to these developments, several major multilateral conferences took place in February, bringing together delegations from Accords member countries. These include the OurCrowd Global Investor Summit in Jerusalem, which hosted delegations from over 80 countries, including the UAE and Morocco. Additionally, the International Defense Exhibition (IDEX) in Abu Dhabi also featured Israeli defense companies, where Israel and the UAE unveiled a jointly-created unmanned vessel.
The impact of the Accords was further evident in February, as Oman opened its skies to Israeli flights for the first time in history. The President of Chad, Mahamat Idriss Derby Itno, traveled to Israel and inaugurated an embassy in Tel Aviv, and on February 16, an Israeli passenger airliner flew directly to Turkey for the first time in 16 years.
The Abraham Accords Peace Institute continued engagement surrounding its 2022 Annual Report in February, with President and Executive Director Robert Greenway traveling to Israel for a series of high-level meetings. Greenway also published a piece discussing the potential for an Abraham Accords Free Trade Area, highlighting the transformative potential of the Accords for the region.
This month we highlight an excerpt from an article by AAPI President and Executive Director Robert Greenway on the potential of a multilateral free trade area among Accords member countries.
The Abraham Accords provide an unprecedented opportunity to increase trade and investment among members by establishing a regional free trade area. A multilateral FTA encompassing current signatories would create more than 150,000 new jobs and new economic activity exceeding $75 billion, while a multilateral FTA among an expanded number of potential signatories to the Accords could create as much as 4 million new jobs and $1 trillion in new economic activity through 2030. The rise of China and the Russian invasion of Ukraine constitute an opportunity to realign our trade to safeguard the integrity of global markets and pursue U.S. goals and objectives in collaboration with our partners and allies. The Abraham Accords offer such an opportunity.
It is in the best interests of Abraham Accords members to form a cooperative regional trading agreement for mutual benefit.
The Middle East has become a global logistics hub while filling a vital gap for Africa, South and Central Asia, and India, which have some of the world’s fastest-growing consumer markets but suffer from a lack of adequate transportation infrastructure and services. The Accords provide an unprecedented opportunity to reorient market access and global transportation hubs, enabling improved efficiency and the establishment of trusted supply chains on terms favorable to the United States and its partners.
Cooperation among members committed to the preservation of free and fair trade will constrain China’s predatory trade practices which disrupt global trade, place supply chains at risk, and degrade the foundations of openness, economic growth, and prosperity.
China has built strategic or cooperative partnerships with eight Arab countries and has set up a strategic dialogue mechanism with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) as part of a comprehensive strategy for the Middle East. Arab countries have become China's largest source of crude oil and its 7th biggest trading partner. Trade cooperation among Accords members will help to constrain Chinese influence in the region.
It is in the U.S. best interests to align our trading partners in MENA into a cooperative forum, built on the Accords and lessons learned from past efforts at regional integration.
The United States played a decisive role in brokering the Accords and will remain a vital partner to sustain and expand the historic agreements. While the United States may no longer be dependent upon the Middle East’s petrochemical resources, the global economy remains dependent on Middle East energy to a substantial degree. It would be strategic hubris to abandon the Middle East and its petrochemical resources which sustain the global economy (of which we are the principal beneficiary) and upon which China is dependent.
The Accords also provide a bridge connecting previous efforts at regional integration with a viable path forward.
The recognition of the economic potential, aligned national interests, and benefits of mutually beneficial integration has fueled the progress of the Accords, providing the foundation for a new regional free trade area. An FTA would also serve as a positive alternative to China’s predatory Belt and Road Initiative, which exploits the vacuum to its advantage.
To translate this vision into reality I recommend the following preliminary steps:
The United States and Accords members should undertake an effort to map the complex array of barriers and impediments to integration and provide options to address each.
Abraham Accords member nations trade ministers should convene to discuss the path towards regional integration and the guiding principles for its creation.
The United States Trade Representative (USTR) should convene trade ministers and appropriate counterparts from the Accords member nations to discuss the potential benefits, parameters, and an incremental approach to establishing a MENA Free Trade Area by 2030 built upon an Abraham Accords Free Trade Area in effect by 2025.
The USTR should also complete Free Trade Agreements with AA members who do not already enjoy the benefits.
The Negev Forum should establish a working group consisting of trade ministers with this objective.
European and Asian trading partners should also meet to consider how their own constellation of trade agreements can benefit participants.
All parties can meet, perhaps during UNGA 78 in New York or COP 28 in the UAE to officially launch the effort and chart a path forward.
This essay is part of the Caravan series of the Working Group on the Middle East and the Islamic World (hoover.org/caravan).
Trade between Israel and the United Arab Emirates reached $264.4 million in January 2023, constituting a 90.35% increase in trade from January 2022.
Trade between Israel and Bahrain reached $1.2 million in January 2023, constituting a 200% increase in trade from January 2022.
Trade between Israel and Morocco reached $13.8 million in January 2023, constituting a 626.32% increase in trade from January 2022.
Trade between Israel and Egypt reached $49.1 million in January 2023, constituting a 118.22% increase in trade from January 2022.
Trade between Israel and Jordan reached $42.5 million in January 2023, constituting a 2.3% decrease in trade from January 2022.
Below you can find a timeline of notable Abraham Accords-related events that occurred in the month of February 2023:
February 1: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with the President of the Republic of Chad, Mahamat Idriss Derby Itno, in Jerusalem, five years after the countries resumed diplomatic ties. President Deby also visited the Western Wall and Temple Mount.
February 1: Israel and Kosovo celebrated the second anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries, with an official reception being held to mark the occasion in Jerusalem on February 21.
February 2: Chad inaugurated an embassy in Tel Aviv, Israel, in a move both countries’ leaders called “historic.”
February 2: Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen flew to Khartoum to meet with Chairman of the Transitional Sovereignty Council General Abdel-Fattah Al-Burhan. The leaders finalized the text of a peace agreement between the countries, laying the groundwork to fully normalize relations in the wake of the Abraham Accords. The document will be signed by both parties after a political resolution in Sudan.
February 3-5: Taste of Dubai—often considered to be the most important food festival in the Persian Gulf Region—invited the Consulate General of Israel to participate for the first time. Israeli Chef Tom Aviv presented Israeli dishes to an audience of Michelin-star chefs and restaurant owners.
February 7-8: IDF Chief of the General Staff Lieutenant General Herzi Halevi visited Bahrain, reportedly flying directly through Saudi airspace on his journey.
February 8: The Moroccan National Agency for Aquaculture and the Israeli company AGRIGO signed a partnership agreement to open a fish farm near Tangiers. Operations are set to begin next April.
February 12: The Israeli Minister of Energy, Egyptian Minister of Electricity and Renewable Energy, and EU Commissioner of Energy met in Cairo to discuss energy supply and the green energy transition.
February 12-16: A group of ten Abu Dhabi business entities visited Israel, where they met with Israeli entrepreneurs and investors to explore cooperation, signed strategic partnerships, and participated in the OurCrowd Global Investor Summit.
February 13: Israeli airline El Al and Emirati airline Etihad announced a reciprocal loyalty agreement, furthering the codeshare agreement they signed in 2021 and allowing frequent flyers on either airline to redeem their miles on the other airline’s flights.
February 13-15: The Egypt Petroleum Show took place in Cairo with the participation of Israel’s Minister of Energy Israel Katz.
February 14: Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen traveled to Turkey to meet with President Erdogan following the devastating earthquakes.
February 14: German foundation Konrad Adenauer (KAS) brought together 10 young activists each from Morocco, Israel, and Germany in Essaouira to discuss the geopolitics of the South Mediterranean region.
February 14-15: Moroccan Tourism Office participated in the International Mediterranean Tourism Market (IMTM) 2023 in Tel Aviv.
February 14-16: World Food Program Director David Beasley visited Sudan, emphasizing the role the country can play in helping to solve the hunger crisis
February 15: The OurCrowd Global Investor Summit took place in Jerusalem, hosting delegations from over 80 countries including a large delegation from the UAE and a delegation from Morocco.
February 16: The UAE inaugurated the Abrahamic Family House in Abu Dhabi. The compound features a church, a mosque, and the country’s first official synagogue and aims to promote interfaith coexistence in the wake of the Abraham Accords.
February 16: Kosovar Ambassador to Israel Ines Demiri met with Israeli Minister of Science and Technology Ofir Akunis to discuss cooperation in innovation and technology between the two countries.
February 16: For the first time in 16 years, an Israeli airliner flew to Turkey, with Israeli Transportation Minister Miri Regev stating that the warming of diplomatic relations between the two countries was possible “thanks to the Abraham Accords.”
February 16: Israeli defense giant Rafael announced it had opened a new office in the UAE, in what the company called a “historic occasion” that will allow Rafael to “create relationships with governments, customers and defense industry leaders” in the UAE.
February 16: Israel exported crude oil for the first time, opening an alternative source of energy for European energy markets that are currently reliant upon Russia.
February 16: General Dudevzion Muhammad Banawali led a delegation of the Moroccan Royal Artillery to Israel, where they toured several military sites and discussed a framework to enhance military relations.
February 16: An Israeli delegation led by the Israel Space Agency participated in the Decider to Decider forum in Casablanca, Morocco, which highlighted topics such as carbon-free planes, cybersecurity, and the militarization of space.
February 17: The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations concluded a mission to the UAE and Bahrain, where they engaged with senior leadership and discussed the deepening of the Abraham Accords.
February 20-24: The International Defense Exhibition (IDEX) took place in Abu Dhabi, where Israel inaugurated its first ever national pavilion. Over 30 Israeli defense companies presented at the exhibition, while multiple meetings were held to discuss furthering defense cooperation with the UAE. Israel and the UAE also unveiled the first jointly-created unmanned vessel between the two countries.
February 21-27: Morocco’s national karate team took part in the second edition of the Abraham Peace Seminar in Eilat, Israel.
February 22: The UAE hosted the first I2U2 Business Forum, bringing together public and private sector representatives from Israel, India, the United States, and the UAE.
February 22: Construction began on the Israeli Embassy in Rabat, Morocco.
February 22: Emirati Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Abdullah bin Zayed met with Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs Director General Ronen Levy to discuss cooperation in various fields and the overall strengthening of bilateral relations.
February 22-24: General Tomer Bar, the commander of Israel’s Air Force, traveled to Morocco for his first official visit. During the visit, he toured air force bases, met with the commander of the Moroccan Air Force, and discussed plans to enhance cooperation.
February 23: Oman opened its airspace to Israeli flights for the first time, a move that will shorten trips from Israel to Asia, lower costs for Israel, and improve the international potential for Israeli companies.
February 26: A flight from Tel Aviv to Bangkok became the first Israeli flight to cross over Omani airspace, shortening the previously ten and an half hour journey to just under eight hours.
February 26: Jordan hosted representatives from the US, Israel, Egypt, and the Palestinian Authority in Aqaba to discuss security cooperation and peace-building efforts.